Reading

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Finished Marcel Benabou’s Why I Have Not Written Any of My Books. Read My Life In Heavy Metal by Steve Almond. Began Room by Emma Donoghue and Moby Dick by, you know, Herman Melville.

Didn’t get much from Benabou’s book. There were many sections that were conceptually interesting, but the overblow, baroque style jarred with me.

Take this sentence: “Thus, I drafted without too much trouble, and sometimes even with intense jubilation, a great quantity of first pages: were someone to take an interest in them one day, that person would create an anthology that might not be lacking savor.” It could be rewritten as “I wrote many first pages, some of which had merit,” without shifting the meaning too much. It could be that Benabou is trying to parody ornate prose, but I’m not sure that’s what he was going for.

Another possibility (and this is possible for most Oulipan work) is that the piece operates under a constraint I don’t understand. However, many of the constraints and generative techniques in Perec’s Life A User’s Manual are not readily apparent, but served the novel well. For example, his lists of items provide characterization as well as introducing dramatic weight into the story — these are characters whose stories are told partly through the accumulation of objects.

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Reading

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Read Immobility by Brian Evenson, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and Hobart 13. Finished Diane William’s Vicky Swanky is a Beauty and Lorrie Moore’s Anagrams. Started Why I Have Not Written Any of My Books by Marcel Benabou.

Some short notes on these after the jump.

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On Publishing

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I’ve been thinking a lot about my motivations behind trying to publish, and I’ve got 3 theories worked out. They’re sorted from least to most probable. It is descriptive of my own reasoning and not intended to be prescriptive.

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The first way is the most complicated, and also the most problematic. We’re going to assume that a piece of fiction is an experiment. I should clarify that by an experiment, I don’t mean what is commonly referred to as “experimental fiction” — I simply mean that we should consider the story like we would a scientific experiment.  We can then assume that the piece will achieve varying degrees of success or failure. While one could argue that the author should be the judge of the story’s success, it makes more sense that a reader should judge this, the reader being more objective and less personally involved with the piece. So, in this situation, the writer sets the conditions of the experiment, performs it, and the reader determines its success. The writer requires a reader for the piece to be evaluated as successful.

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Reading

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Read Kate Zambreno’s Heroines, Jane Bowles’s Two Serious Ladies, Jac Jemc’s My Only Wife, and Michael Kimball’s Big Ray. Started Blake Butler’s Sky Saw, Raymond Queneau’s The Flight of Icarus and finished Daniel Levin-Becker’s Many Subtle Channels.

Zambreno’s Heroines is, on the surface, difficult to categorize. It’s a book length work of both literary criticism and memoir. However, the form works and seems very natural — it fosters my belief that fragmentation is often more natural than adherence to traditional form. Heroines is unashamedly subjective, justifiably angry, and very readable. Sometimes when reading a book I think that it’s something we are going to have to come to grips with as a culture, and this is one of those books. Zambreno has identified an unacknowledged problem — how the literary cannon, psychiatry, and the culture as a whole has sold these women short, and how we continue to dismiss creative young women.

I read Big Ray in one evening. I can’t remember the last time I’ve read a book in a single sitting.

I’ve got some thoughts on Diane Cook’s story Flotsam, appearing in Redivider 10.1, after the jump.

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Reading

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I’ve started Many Subtle Channels by Daniel Levin Becker, as well as The Recognitions by William Gaddis.

Becker’s book is thoroughly charming so far, as any book concerning Oulipo should be. The Recognitions is funnier than expected. My previous experience with extremely long books is limited to 2666 and The Man Without Qualities. They’re both incredible books, but they haven’t made me laugh out loud as much as Gaddis’s book. I’m also fascinated by expressions of faith that fall outside the norm, and the book has those in spades.

I read M. Kitchell’s Variations on the Sun, from Love Symbol Press. Some thoughts on that after the jump.

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Reading

Read Best American Short Stories 2012, New York Tyrant 4.1, and Christine Schutt’s Florida.

BASS 2012 has some great pieces in it — Tom Perotta, this years editor, seemed to want to strike a balance between traditional and experimental pieces, but the whole thing still felt a little safe. Some standouts: Nathan Englander’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank,” Roxane Gay’s “North Country,” Mike Meginnis’s “Navigators.” However, pieces like Lawrence Osbourne’s “Volcano,” and an unusually weak story from Stephen Millhauser made it more of a mixed bag.

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GODDAMN TUBA

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Elimae is an online literary journal founded in 1996 by Deron Bauman. In 2005 Cooper Renner took over editing and design. Kim Chinquee joined him from January to October 2010, followed by Brandon Hobson from November 2010 onward.

A few days ago Cooper Renner and Brandon Hobson announced that the forthcoming November issue would be the last.

Let’s go back a second. Elimae was founded in 1996. 1996. At that point the concept of legitimate fiction published online was mostly dismissed. Bauman saw potential in the medium though — he put out work from established writers like Gordon Lish and Diane Williams, as well as writers whose work would grow in stature over the following years (Brian Evenson, Gary Lutz).

Renner, Chinquee, and Hobson have continued that work through to the present day. The fiction is often short and sentence oriented. It is work that is meant for the internet. The design is minimal but sleek, focused on the text presented.

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Here, some highlights:

David Ohle – Der Kroetenkusser
Marc Peacock Brush – Congratulations! It’s a Superpower
Elizabeth Ellen – Two Fictions
Blake Butler – Gift (bonus interview by Michael Kimball)
Matthew Salesses – Two Fictions
Sarah Rose Etter – Cures
Sara Levine – Two Fictions
Lincoln Michel – A Note on the Type

And many more. Renner and Hobson have expressed some uncertainty about the continuing existence of the archives, so, you know, get on it.

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Elimae has published two pieces of mine this past year. They’ve run an incredibly tight ship, and usually respond to submissions in less than a week (less than a week!). The second piece, “The Fox and the Choir,” is an excerpt from a longer work that I was finishing when I submitted it. It gave me some much needed reassurance that I was on the right track.

The journal will be missed, and I wish the best for all involved.

Reading

I’m conflicted by Michel Houellebecq’s “The Possibility of an Island” and I’ll try and work that out after the jump.

Read the first two books in “The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel.” Really wonderful, minimalist prose. She doesn’t bend language quite as far as Christine Schutt, but she has more of an emphasis on point of view and some well executed metafiction elements in there.

My wife finished “A Queer and Pleasant Danger,” a transgendered ex-scientology memoir, and the story was too interesting not to read. The author, Kate Bornstein, does a fine job in laying out their narrative — it’s mostly told in a linear fashion, with just a few flashbacks and forwards to fill in the blanks. However, the post-scientology section of the book felt more like a whole book in itself. The level of detail dropped and there were fewer full scenes and more explanation. It may have also worked to structure the book into only two sections (pre and post scientology), but given the number of transitions ze goes through in the book, that may have rung false. A binary structure probably wouldn’t suit this book.

Finished the first book in Vladimir Sorokin’s “Ice Trilogy.” Beautiful, but cryptic. Felt like if I knew more about Russian history more of it would have made sense. Still, expert use of voice and repetition.

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Reading

Read China Mieville’s Embassytown. Good beginning and ending, felt like it lost its way in the middle.

Started Best European Short Stories 2012. Thoroughly enjoyed Zsofia Ban‘s When There Were Only Animals — it’s the highlight of the collection so far. I’m worried that, like the 2010 edition, it’ll be too focused on traditional narrative, but we’ll see. Zsofia’s story gives me hope.

Read parts of Cyclonopedia and Zone. Both excellent, slow books.

I keep coming back to Mary Stone’s story We Will Plan Big Things in kill author 15. It refuses to exit my brain; I refuse to shut up about it.